Do you remember your very first journal? You were probably 8-12 years old, and it might’ve had a cute little lock so no one could access your deepest and darkest secrets. You’re not the only one. But you probably didn’t know the benefits of journaling on your emotional, cognitive and physical development.
We’ve been journaling as early as writing records go back. Anne Frank poured her negative emotions and positive feelings into a journal, allowing the rest of the world to truly understand what it was like for so many families during World War II. Probably a stress-management tactic in her miserable conditions.
Even Marco Polo kept perhaps one of the earliest travel blogs. A journal back in the 1200s that described his voyages and travels across the world. But it’s only recently that we’re able to study why journaling is incredible for us.
Numerous scientists have tested the psychological, physical, and cognitive benefits of journaling. So if you’ve been looking for an excuse to pick up the pen again, I’ve got you.
Here are nine surprising benefits of journaling.
Handle Stressful Events Calmly & Reduce Anxiety
Life is like an adult emotional trap. A playground full of emotional triggers set to go off at any time. And we’re excepted to be totally cool at all times.
It’s a battlefield of passive-aggressive emails, raging drivers, cringe-worthy comments from your Aunt on Facebook, and surprise deadlines. Yay! And we’re expected to say “sure thing” and “no worries” throughout it all.
Although times have certainly changed in the past few decades, our physiological responses haven’t. The problem? The stress response that once reacted to a fierce tiger now responds to a passive-aggressive email. We’re firing stress hormones like no one’s business, and 18.1% of America is suffering from anxiety. And that's just those on record.
Yeah, we’re a stressed-out bunch.
Luckily, in the age of the internet, there are so many tools that we can utilize to better ourselves. Practices like meditation can be unattainable for a generation that’ve been conditioned to do rather than be. But writing? That’s more achievable.
Whatever stress you’re going through, it can help clarify your thoughts and allow for emotional expression. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone to empathize with you, especially when you intellectually know your problems are minor. A journal helps you validate and clarify your emotions, reducing stress. Writing helps you gain insight, and it’s even proven to lower blood pressure.
Best Journal for Stress Management
Mindfulness journals are excellent for stress management. Journaling for mindfulness helps you get out of your head and into the moment. It could include journal prompts, drawing, or feeling into your five senses.
Mindfulness is ideal for stress management because it brings you into your rest and digest part of your nervous system. When you’re stressed, your blood goes to your large muscle groups, your blood pressure is raised, and your heart beats faster.
A mindfulness practice like journaling tells your body it’s safe to relax. You’ll have lower blood pressure, increased immune function and improved digestion, and other autonomic functions.
Boost Your Mental Health & Regulate Emotions
One in twenty people suffer from depression, and it’s reported that more women have depression than men. It’s a fact that depression leads to suicide, yet men account for almost 70% of suicide cases. There’s a disconnect here.
It’s clear that more than one in twenty people have depression, but women are seeking more help than men. Help often comes in the form of medication or talk therapy. And the research shows that writing can be just as effective as talk therapy.
Mental healthcare experts encourage journaling to prevent depression. Journaling lets you express gratitude and take note of all things that go well. Life problems are also more recognizable, and specific difficulties become clearly understandable.
If you have a debilitating illness like major depressive disorder, journaling will provide you with much-needed perspective. The information can also encourage you to see the benefits of experiencing trauma, reducing some of the symptoms of mental health issues.
Best Journal for Mental Health Improvement
In a 2006 American Survey, about 100 people surveyed had spent two weeks each day drawing or writing a few paragraphs about something they had dreaded. A journaling practice decreased psychological symptoms and had a profound effect on those with heightened psychological distress.
You can improve mental illness with just 15 minutes of writing. The qualitative research above targets art therapy specifically. So if you’re looking to overcome a mental health issue, consider an art journal. Here’s how to start an art journal:
Get some supplies. Perhaps, colored pens, scrapbook material, or even paint materials.
Choose a time where you feel inspired to be more creative.
Select a section within your home that allows for artistic expression.
Consider creative or expressive writing.
There are no rules when it comes to an art journal. You can have short stories, hand-drawn pictures, or layered scrapbook elements. What’s more important is to release tension as you practice a form of self-expression.
Expressive Writing Clarifies Your Thoughts and Feelings
One of the largest advantages of journaling is the ability to track your emotional levels. Writing things out onto paper helps you to understand why you feel a certain way. By monitoring your emotions daily, you’ll find patterns. There is a clear distinction between positive feelings and negative feelings. If you can find these triggers, you could eliminate all negative triggers or find ways to reduce any effect your actions have.
Mostly, writing your thoughts and feelings onto paper provides you with perspective.
It’s easy to get stuck in a mental negative feedback loop, and it feels embarrassing to share our deepest thoughts with others. One of the incredible benefits of journaling is it acts as a sounding board.
So many of us don’t have a support network emotionally equipped to talk through our emotions. Journaling can shift us into a positive mood by gaining insight into our tricky thoughts.
Best Journal for Clarifying Feelings
Writing prompts are best for clarifying feelings. An excellent idea could be to create your own. Or you can use prompts already provided. Included in the Goal Getting Journal, are evening prompts. They’re there to help you clarify your thoughts and habits that are serving you and the ones that aren’t so great for your mental health.
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Choose prompts that work for you and write without judgment. If you begin writing and keep it up, you’ll start to see themes that appear in your thoughts, feelings, and habits, helping you make positive changes.
Increase Physical Health With A Strengthened Immune System
Writing doesn’t just strengthen the mind. It supports the immune system too. Journaling has proven to have a positive impact on health, reducing symptoms of asthma, HIV, and arthritis.
There is more research to go into understating the extent of how journaling heals. But there are a few things we know for sure:
Journaling reduces stress.
Writing can help you overcome a traumatic event.
Stress sends blood away from autonomic functions like the immune response.
While we still need to invest more into qualitative research to understand how transformative practices like journaling can stimulate our immune response. We know for now that journaling stressful events help you gain many essential insights. So why not give it a go?
Best Journal to Increase Immunity
Evidence also suggests that journaling decreases physical health ailments and gives your immune system a boost with specific methods. Of course, your personal doctor will give the best advice for your unique situation.
To receive these health benefits of journaling, you could consider using the same method as Pennebaker. His studies revealed that writing about stressful events helps boost immunity. So pour your heart onto paper and do it alongside therapy if needed. Writing prompts can also be helpful when finding a starting point to journal out your emotions.
Increase Cognition and Develop Executive Function
When we think of developing cognitive function, we think of learning a new language or complex problem-solving. But sleep, nutrition, exercises, and journaling benefits our cognitive processing by boosting our brainpower.
Our executive function is developed in our pre-frontal cortex, where we learn how to delay gratification, rationalize, problem-solve and critically think. It’s also essential for developing emotional intelligence by recognizing emotion in another person and responding accordingly.
Schools focus on written assignments, especially in 8 – 18-year-olds, by design. They know high school and college students can increase their understanding by working out unfamiliar terms and unfamiliar vocabulary. They use writing to improve technical capabilities like mathematics and non-technical tasks like emotional and communication skills.
So how is all of that relatable as an adult?
Writing about your problems increases cognitive functioning. You have more energy to make decisions at work. You’re able to problem-solve complex issues and simplify them to communicate with different stakeholders. You’ll get a healthy sense of what others are feeling and how to adapt your response based on their micro-behaviors.
You become a better leader, lover, and friend.
Best Journal to Increase Cognitive Function
To increase cognitive functioning, consider a journal that allows you to solve a complex problem. This could be an individual brainstorming session or simply writing out your complex feelings. Be sure to work through negative thoughts and allow space for positive thoughts too.
It’s best to get a blank journal, so you have plenty of space to start writing through your problems or stressful event in the way that you see fit.
Increase Mental Space and Fall Asleep More Quickly
A calm mind assists you to fall asleep faster and eliminates spooky nightmares. Clearing the conscious mind of stressful events frees the mind to enter subconscious states like dreaming REM sleep. We already know that journaling benefits our emotional and physical well-being. Freeing the mind from sleep can induce all the benefits of moving through the sleep stages optimally.
A study focused on the benefits of productivity-focused writing and its relationship to sleep. It found that having too many tabs open in the brain contributes to a lack of sleep, including worrying about incomplete tasks or future goals they’d like to achieve.
Best Journal to Improve Sleep
Research had found that those who wrote down what they still had to do in detail fell asleep faster than those who didn’t. An effective journaling method for light sleepers is to get those active thoughts out of paper before placing their head on the pillow. In just a few minutes, to-do list journaling helps you fall asleep faster and reap all the cognitive and physical benefits of a good night’s sleep.
You can use the checkbox feature on your notes app or have a to-do list by your bedside table. If you choose to use a phone, I recommend enabling do not disturb, so you don’t get caught in a social media rabbit hole.
Stay Focused and Achieve Your Goals Faster
You’re 43% more likely to stay focused and achieve your goals if you write them down. And if you add some accountability into the mix? You’re 76% more likely to accomplish or be at least halfway towards your goals. If you’re not ready to share your goals with a friend or mentor, no worries. Just the simple act of writing them down will help.
Journaling is a technique to hold yourself accountable. When your goal is established in your subconscious by writing, you will unconsciously seek out opportunities to reach your goals. Writing down your goals reinforces them in your mind and allows you to develop a plan to achieve them.
Best Journal to Prevent Procrastination
A structured journal is best to prevent procrastination and stay focused on your goals. This will help you keep your goals realistic and at the forefront of your mind. There are a few things to consider when choosing or creating a structured journal.
Ensure it’s a daily journal you can complete at the same time each day.
Keep the journal or goal in your view throughout the day.
Ensure it allows you to break down your goals into achievable actions.
Consider using the Goal Getting Journal if you need a framework to stay focused on your goals.
Increase Resilience by Processing Trauma Effectively
Writing about your deepest darkest traumas seems to be dangerous when it comes to emotional healing. But it’s proven to increase both physical and psychological health.
In just five 15-20 minute sessions, clinical and non-clinical study participants revealed that journaling about their most traumatic and difficult experiences increases their well-being compared to neutral topics.
For this to work, they had to explore their deepest and darkest feeling without worrying about sentence structure or spelling. Just get it all out on paper. There were no rules about topics. They could choose a different emotional event each day or write about the same one.
But how much is too much?
Psychologist Helen Marlo, Ph.D., says:
She expanded upon previous studies and found that positive psychological benefits were more prevalent when writing about positive experiences rather than negative ones. She raises a good point in terms of using personal judgment and working with a therapist where needed.
Best Journal for Improved Resilience
When using writing as a tool for overcoming trauma, psychiatric treatment should be considered. Expressive writing is proven to be incredibly beneficial. But writing about traumatic experiences can open a person up to new emotions and not everyone is ready to face those negative experiences yet. With the support of a licensed professional, expressive writing can help you overcome traumatic events.
For those simply wanting to be more resilient in life, focus on a gratitude or positivity journal. It’s easy to forget how far you’ve come in life. We have been conditioned to achieve from a young age and it’s difficult to stop intrusive thoughts of lack from entering the mind.
When you focus on what’s going well, you have more energy to deal with the setbacks. When starting a gratitude journal, take it a step further and write why you’re grateful too. This helps you truly feel grateful for your current circumstances.
Releases Mental Tension to Increase Creativity and Intuition
Many psychotherapists encourage journaling to get out of your left brain and into the right. Your left brain is all about facts, figures, and processes. It’s the way we’ve been conditioned to think and it’s the way you speak to your boss when justifying a pay rise.
The right brain is the ability to intuit, feel and create. It’s all about emotions. When you’re about to purchase a new dress, you make the decision emotionally (right brain) and then justify it to others and yourself logically (left brain).
The problem nowadays is we’re suppressing our creativity. We’re told to stop playing guitar and become a dentist instead. Or that being an artist won’t pay the bills. Now being an artist isn’t for everyone. Yet both creativity and logic are a core part of our being.
Journaling taps into that more creative side of ourselves.
Best Journal to Tap Into Your Intuition
Intuition, feeling, and creativity can’t be planned or manipulated by the mind. It needs to be felt. The ideal journal to tap into your intuitive side is an art journal, dream journal, or freewriting.
Dreams are said to be our subconscious. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, encouraged dream journaling and analysis to tap into our intuitive centers.
The most simple thing you can do is to start an art journal or free-write. Express your authentic self without thought. Set an alarm and simply allow your pen to move through the page. Removing thought or judgment from the process can be transformative and a welcome break from the analytical and process-driven world that we live in.
How to Start a Journal
Starting a journal can be daunting, especially when you’re starting out with an empty page. If you need some prompts, start first with the Goal Getting Journal. A structured journal will help you get in the habit of journaling first and analyze your current habits.
For more practical tips about how to start a journal to reap these nine health benefits of journaling, [internal link]. The best way to get started is to simply put pen to paper. Decide on the five minutes you’re willing to invest in yourself, uninterrupted. And do it.
You got this! 💪